Tassie Treasure: two days on Bruny Island
February 12, 2019 • Toby Ley
7 min read
Tasmania has a lot to offer, and for those with limited time, Bruny Island is a perfect taste test, so to speak, offering a little of everything that makes Eastern Tasmania unique. Mountains, forests, wildlife and pristine beaches; we spent two days exploring this brilliant gem of a place.
Bruny Island might not have been my favourite place in Tasmania, as such a distinction would be almost impossible with the wealth of natural beauty on offer across the state, but it was undoubtedly a highlight. It lies just off the island’s south-east coast, and although it’s barely 100km long, it’s got a little bit of everything you could want from Eastern Tasmania, from the cleared grazing land and dry eucalypt forest to the mountains, high sea-cliffs and stunning coastal rock formations.
Beyond this, we took in secluded bays, pristine beaches, rugged headlands and dense forests, not to mention some of the best wildlife viewing in the state. Devils, echidnas, quolls, penguins, whales, seals, dolphins and all thirteen Tasmanian endemic bird species thrive on Bruny Island.
It’s separated from the mainland by the D’Entrecasteaux channel, (and I don’t think you’re alone if you have trouble pronouncing that). Bruni d’Entrecasteaux was a French explorer who uncovered much of Tasmania in the late 1700s, while searching for the lost La Pérouse expedition, another significant explorer who vanished in Oceania some years before. The island retains many relics of a long and interesting colonial history, with popular historic sites scattered along its length.
As for getting there, it’s about a 20 minute ferry ride from the small town of Kettering, which is about half an hour south of Hobart. Ferries depart every half hour, and it’s $38 for a return ticket, with the early morning fares being a little cheaper.
I’ll be honest, the section of the island you’ll be greeted with upon arrival likely won’t have you clamouring for photographs. It’s mostly the same farmland and dry schlerophyl bushland you’ve just left behind, although there’s a few nice beaches if you detour to the far north. The real beauty lies south of the Neck.
The Neck is a long, sandy and narrow strip of land connecting the two sections of the island, geologically its known as an isthmus. I’d definitely recommend stopping here to check out Truganini Lookout, nestled atop a small hill just before the Neck’s narrowest point. Climbing to the top will leave the rest of the island stretching out before you, with beach to one side of the narrow strip of land and a protected bay to the other, while a small range of mountains rises beyond.
This is really a place where you could spend the better part of a week, but with only two days to explore as much as possible, we set off to see the rest. From here, we headed down to the southern end of the island, with a quick stop on the way to find the endangered Forty Spotted Pardalote, a small and inauspicious bird that likes to stick to the high foliage.
The southernmost chunk of Bruny has been preserved as the unimaginative but appropriately named South Bruny National Park. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the island, with large swathes of coastal wilderness, and has some great camping, walking and sightseeing options. After the small locality of Alonnah, there are two directions you can take into different sections of the park. To the left, Cloudy Corner is a fantastic secluded beach and 4WD accessible campsite. It even requires a little beach driving to reach it, although the sand is usually so firmly packed you barely have to worry about airing down your tires.
After checking out the beach here, we headed in the other direction, taking the winding and unsealed forest road through to South Bruny Cape. Rugged headlands and rocky bays beneath twisting peninsulas dominate out here. South Bruny Cape historic lighthouse sits atop one of these headlands, and is worth a visit for the spectacular views along the peninsula and across the channel back to the Tasmanian Coast.
Nearby, we settled in at Jetty Beach campground, a secluded bush campground by one of the nicest beaches we visited in all of Tasmania. White sands and calm, crystal clear water, and while the titular jetty was nowhere in sight, we did see some neighbouring campers bring back some hefty looking fish. There’s a tough but spectacular walk from here that takes in the Labillardiere Peninsula if you’ve got the time, or a shorter loop through some coastal heath that didn’t look half bad either.
The next morning, after a quick swim and a short walk, we headed back across the island to Adventure Bay in time for a wilderness cruise along the southern coast. These trips are operated by Pentecoast Cruises, and run at $135 per adult. It’s a lot more than we’d usually spend on a single outing, but even when travelling on a budget you have to splurge occasionally.
The boat speeds down along the rugged and wild coastline, beneath some spectacular towering sea cliffs and passing intricate sea caves and rock formations. Even in full sun and in the height of summer it’s bloody cold, with those southern winds whipping at you.
The main draw for me was the wildlife, with whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds regularly seen, although we unfortunately had a bit of a quiet day on that front. Still, we managed to spot some Common Beaked Dolphins swimming alongside the boat, and had hordes of Australian and New Zealand Fur-Seals lounging around on salt-sprayed rocks, guffawing and sliding into the ocean.
After the cruise we headed to the Neck Campground, nestled right beside the beach. Come dusk, we took a 2km stroll down the beach to the base of Truganini Lookout. This stretch of beach is an important penguin rookery, with a boardwalk set up from where you can watch Little Penguins returning from their days of fishing. As the light drops, they creep hesitantly out of the surf and slowly make their way up the beach in small, cautious groups, often wandering right by the boardwalk. While unlikely, you do occasionally get the odd one emerging from their small burrows in the daylight.
As the penguins waddled ashore, the sky above filled with hundreds of Short-tailed Shearwaters also returning to their burrows, circling and crying out with their loud chatter. If you want a better look at the penguins or other nocturnal wildlife here, tie a few layers of red celophane around your torch. This will cut off the wavelengths of light that are likely to disturb their light-sensitive nocturnal eyes.
The wildlife isn’t the only thing worth watching as it gets dark out here. During the day, we noticed great bands of a murky pink substance drifting across the ocean. This is actually a particular type of algae, commonly referred to as Sea-Sparkle, and at night, it comes alive in spectacular bioluminescent displays.
From down below, while watching the penguins, we caught the occasional distant burst of light out amongst the dark waves. From atop the nearby lookout, the entire dark ocean lit up with brilliant flashes of neon green as the algae was tossed by the current, providing a memorable end to our short visit.